Monday, April 22, 2019

Review: The Salt Path

The Salt Path The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A middle-aged couple in the UK, facing bankruptcy and a terminal illness diagnosis, decides to take off and walk the South West Coast Path in the United Kingdom, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall. Most identity crisis take-a-walk memoirs are from younger, healthier people who still struggle physically, emotionally, and financially, but all of those elements are worse here. They are frequently mistaken for vagrants, asked to leave, and sometimes given food for free (and they really need it in these moments, so the kind strangers are not wrong!)

There is a bit of desperation in the pages. The path is almost insurmountable, but they do not have any way to make a living or any place to live. So they walk. It almost intersects more with books like Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century than with your typical sojourning books.

I enjoyed reading about the landscape of the cliffs of this region and definitely spent some time looking up images on the internet. It is a shame that so many of these communities seem actively opposed to travelers coming through, when clearly the path has a long history.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel had so much hype, between its listing as a pick for Book of the Month and a monthly pick for Reese Witherspoon's book club, that I almost didn't want to read it. But I was headed to a long weekend in Beaufort, SC, with a landscape similar to that of the book, and decided to listen to it on the way there. We got about 10% in listening at 1x speed. After returning home and finishing up some podcast listening, I returned to the book at 1.75x speed and finished it in a few days.

The central story in the novel is that of Kya, a girl who lives in the isolated marshes of North Carolina in the 1950s. Due to several family situations, she is forced to largely raise herself, learning to cook, clean, and navigate a boat long before she learns to read. At some point a 1969 storyline steps in with the occasional chapter, introducing a murder mystery in the closest town to Kya.

I loved this book for its landscape, and for the survival narrative. I liked the idea of Kya developing a deep understanding of the marsh and its creatures, and being able to represent that artistically. I enjoyed the light mystery of the murder/death. I liked that she created a small found family of sorts with the people of color and a few other real marsh dwellers that had an overall positive impact on her life, probably saving her life. I found it harder to fully give myself over to the idea of Kya learning to read and then going on to master high levels of learning without any other expert guiding her understanding. It tastes a little of the kind of narrative where a person is redeemed by their extra goodness rather than just letting them be average or uneducated but still valuable because they are human, but this is so entrenched in American lit I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

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Review: Calling a Wolf a Wolf

Calling a Wolf a Wolf Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

These poems are full of desire and alcoholism, identity and guilt, God and words. I love his use of space on the page because it makes you take a pause along with him.

Some of my favorites are

Do You Speak Persian?

Some Boys Aren't Born They Bubble

Desunt Nonnulla

Thirstiness is Not Equal Division

River of Milk


So Often the Body Becomes a Distraction

(I read this from a print copy via interlibrary loan but it is available in Hoopla, if you have access.)

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Reading Envy 149: TBR Explode!

Jenny kicks off a short bonus episode with a joint readalong announcement, and covers three months of her TBR Explode project.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 149: TBR Explode!

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Just a few of the books in the TBR Explode Project!

Books mentioned:

Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, A History by Lewis Buzbee
The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegard
Standing in the Light by Sharman Apt Russell
My Life at First Try by Mark Budman
When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
Karnak Cafe by Naguib Mahfouz
The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon
Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology by Nick Gevers
South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
The Vegan Monologues by Ben Shaberman
Ask the Dust by John Fante
Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Lady Vernon and her Daughter by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Omega the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem
After Dark by Haruki Murakami
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux
Symmetry by Marcus du Sautoy
A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
City of Golden Shadow by Tad Williams

Other mentions:
Book Cougars Episode 73
Book Cougars Goodreads discussion board
Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta
Reading Envy Readers in Goodreads (for weekly discussions of readalong)

Related Episodes:

Episode 090 - Reading Envy Readalong: East of Eden
Episode 099 - Reading Envy Readalong: The Secret History
Episode 118 - Reading Envy Readalong: To the Bright Edge of the World 
Episode 137 - Reading Envy Readalong: The Golden Notebook 

Stalk us online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Review: Mars

Mars Mars by Asja Bakić
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

These stories from Bosnian writer Asja Bakic, translated by Jennifer Zoble, run a gamut of speculative and satirical situations (so don't expect Mars as a setting for most of them.) These stories capture a bit of bizarre combined with complex characters but all with a larger commentary on the world. (They reminded me of Julia Elliott (The Wilds) in the way there are elements that sneak up on you and take a story in an unexpected direction.)

I had a copy of these stories from the publisher through Edelweiss. The collection came out March 19, 2019, and this is a good one to earmark for Women in Translation month!

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Review: by Nathan Englander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Larry is an atheist in a family of orthodox Memphis Jews. When his father dies, it is his responsibility as the surviving son to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, every day for eleven months. He hatches an ingenious if cynical plan, hiring a stranger through a website called"

This novel is a quick read and not as dense as the last one from this author, but Larry is a likeable fool of a character who is still able to go on a deeper journey of self-examination, in what he owes to his family, how much of his identity comes from being Jewish and what that should ultimately mean for his life.

My rating is more like 3.5 stars. It's very readable and Larry is a good character, but there is a major character shift that the author doesn't take the reader through but rather makes a big time jump, and I can't help but think the best novel would have at least included that story.

I had a digital copy from the publisher through Edelweiss. It came out March 26, 2019.

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Review: The Chef's Secret

The Chef's Secret The Chef's Secret by Crystal King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first learned about this author from Catherine on the Sarah's Book Shelves podcast, episode 2 - I was intrigued by the concept of historical foodie fiction so I requested an eARC of The Chef's Secret from Edelweiss (this came out February 12, 2019.)

Even though it took me a while to read, and I read it between other things, there are a lot of itches scratched by this novel. First is the food, of course. The two main characters are the Pope's chef in Renaissance Italy, so there is a lot of discussion of incredible feasts and elaborate dishes. On top of that is the story of a chef and his master teacher, a chef who leaves his property and possessions to him (including his last name!) when he dies. His journals are written in code, so there are elements of mystery and codebreaking and secrets. Everything is couched in deep historical research that doesn't bog down the story but really adds a lot to it. (I loved the author note at the end which points out which pieces she took from history and which she made work for the story, and the sources she relied on.)

The author also has some historical recipes to accompany the book and anything Renaissance Italy on her website. There is a tart that accompanied a major plot point, and I'm tempted....

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